Friday, July 12, 2013

Brooklyn Castle

I watched Brooklyn Castle last night.  I very much enjoyed it, but do agree somewhat with the Tactics Time Guy's review. I also was puzzled by some of the extravagance. 

"Oh dear!", I gasped, " These kids should be able to pursue their extra-curricular activities, just like the basketba - WHAT?!  They send 56 kids across the country?!  Even the 400s?! Hand me my budget axe, Ma, I'm going in."

I think it was a misstep for a documentary trying to show the tragedy of underfunding our schools.  There are easy and more effective ways to convey this message, and using diligent, charming kids in the effort would have made it a slam dunk.  Of course, if schools get funding for basketball programs, they certainly should get funding for chess programs.  But perhaps send fifteen kids across the country, and buy some textbooks or raise a teacher's pay.

And yes, there's tremendous incentive for taxpayers to pay for Big Bird.

I checked some current ratings.  Patrick is about 800.  He attended a tournament in December, so he's still working hard, transforming a weakness into a strength.  Pobo and Alexis have improved by about 100.  Rochelle is about 2060, but a few months ago she was 2130, so she's within firing range of her goal of Master.  Given time and her drive, it's nearly inevitable.  With the UT college scholarship she earned, I'm sure we'll be hearing from her soon.  Justus is up over 2300, which for all you non-chess addicts, means he's already on the bottom rungs of international strength. 

I also wish they had spent more time interviewing Justus and Rochelle about their own insights into their skill.  Of course, it would be difficult to do that without making the movie too chessy.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My pulse

Funny, it's a year later and my nemesis just kicked my butt again.

I've been back at it.  I actually use chess to reinvigorate my mind for another hobby.  So when I stray from chess it means I feel my mind is invigorated and I'm pursuing a wonderful goal!

I'm dedicated to the skill of mastering tactical chess puzzles.  It's my massive deficiency, and thinking in these terms orients my focus and time properly. 


Chessimo Restarted, but abandoned.  I'm not quite as big of a fan anymore, although it is a good product.  It shouldn't start with mates.  Also, when you have a 150 problem set to grind through, it's too easy to mash buttons, only half knowing the continuation.  I will go back to this someday, because it still is a handy product. When doing mates in Bain and Hays, it's obvious I gained skill from Chessimo.

Bain: 4 Circles.  With my Android tablet and the wonderful Scid on the Go, I can knock this out casually in a weekend.  I'll do another one in a few weeks.  I love Bain.  So easy, so foundational.  Nobody learning should skip this.  It's easy in a productive, embed-it-in-your-brain way.

Hays .2 Circles.  Many of these are difficult, and I'm humbled/iliated by that.  My brain feels like half-dry concrete.  Is it age?  Health?  I like to study chess because I believe I'm poorly geared for it - it hits all my visual/spatial weak points, and sometimes that can make chess cool and anxiety-free.  But wow, I am so bad.

Chess Tempo is in the mix.  It's just bonus material right now, but it will serve as my skill assessment tool for my initial goals.

Largely, I've gone full circle and I'm leaning back towards printed books.  I do wish they wouldn't put the answers in the back.  That's stupid.  Put them in the footnotes of the next page.

I am so bad. My goal is to not be tactically bad.  That's not overly ambitious, I think.


I'm still in the same state.  I'm compiling a future repertoire, but I'm resolute about not training yet.

I'm leaning away from gambits.  Beginners play other beginners.  It's demoralizing to give away a pawn to another beginner, and then not have the skill to do anything with the compensation.  I don't need that headache. Especially in attacking openings, there are enough beginner mistakes being made to offer plenty of free 'compensation' to the improving player.  I look forward to learning the strategy of attack in the future, and gambits might roll into my repertoire like a storm.

I'm leaning towards white king pawns that feature an early f4, and have structural similarities.  It turns out this search duplicated a lot of Bangiev's white repertoire.  Thank you, IM Alexander Bangiev.  So, GPA, f4 Vienna, possibly 2.f4 French and 2.f4 CK ("The Till Attack!").  Yeah, unsound yadda-yadda.  Got it.


Nothing yet, and nothing for a while.


Nothing yet, and nothing for a while.  I'm really looking forward to this phase.  I'm not hopeless in this area; I know the basics as well as any beginner should.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


White to move

This problem is in both Bain's Chess Tactics for Students and Chessimo Tactics 1.  So I see it a lot; I've probably encountered it 7-10 times, and I'm not sure I've gotten it right even once.  It's not even that hard.  But for some reason, I never see the initiating piece.  It's like it's not on the board.  And I don't seem to be learning the pattern at all!  Maybe this action will burn it into my brain.

Tactics Training Status
Chessimo:  Studied 4866, Learned 360 (Overall Completion: 10.1%!)
Bain:  1.75 Circles completed

When you're tired and bored, it gets easy to play Whack-a-Mole on the problems, even if you try to avoid it.  I do keep telling myself that just seeing the patterns and going through the motions (the moves are easy to remember one at a time) has some value.  Added is the frustration that they're getting harder, and they're all Mates or pseudo-Mates.  The difficulty increase is a bit faster than my skill increase.  I would prefer a bit of a go at similarly leveled Win Decisive Material problems, to prolong the training at one skill level.  It will be a bit silly if I get to the end of Tactics 1 having done Mate in 6/7s, and then half of Tactics 2 is 2/3-move forks and skewers.  It's a bit unbalanced.

However, once again, about two units after I started to get discouraged, GM Milos gives 2-3 units of pure review to let you catch your breath.  It's a wise scheme.  I've also been making an effort to visualize or understand the entire problem before whacking, even pausing the timer, and definitely if I clearly don't understand the problem.

I located a PGN of Bain, and that has made a world of difference.  I'm running through this set again, and it's pretty easy to run through 100 or so in a sitting.  I think my favorite tactics training method is simply a PGN and Scid vs. PC, or Scid on the Go for my Android tablet.  I never Whack-a-Mole, there's no timer, but I'm willing to give up and move on if I'm stumped (doesn't happen too often with Bain, of course).

I don't know if I'll do a full seven with Bain within the calendar year, but probably at least three.  Next set likely will involve  Hays' Chess Tactics for Juniors (people say it's harder), CPT 3.3 Tactics set L2, a set from, or a combination of the three.

Generic Amazon Customer Chess Book Review:  "I loved this book!  It definitely helped my chess!  Beginners and intermediates will benefit the most!"

How do you know you've improved?  Did you take a canned exam?  What was your rating improvement?  Maybe you got worse!  Granted, I understand that some chess knowledge can have a delayed benefit, and that chess skill isn't all about ratings.  But we have reasonable ways of measuring chess skill, and I'm worried about people thinking they've learned a damn when they haven't.  Of course, to some extent, any exposure to good chess positions is good, but that's pretty weak sauce.

So I say all that to say that I'm sure I'm improving, but I can't prove it.  My CTS rating has bumped up a solid 50 points.  I know that doesn't seem like much, and certainly I would have hoped for more by now, but it's consistent (both the initial rating and the current rating).  It'd be higher if I was more committed to speed over accuracy.  I haven't done ChessTempo in a while, but the problem with that is that by doing Standard, my rating seems artificially inflated.  Honestly, given infinite patience I imagine I could have a 1800-2000 rating at ChessTempo.  I'm not in the mood to do more timers ala Blitz mode, but we'll see.

Regardless, tactics really are popping out more.  The "I know this theme!" recognition is a bit better.  My skill is laughably lopsided.  I'm much better at the Mates, compared to the Decisive Materials.  One emphasizes things like absolute pins and attacks on mating squares.  The other emphasizes forks, skewers, etc.  Hopefully, Decisive Materials will improve and so will my ratings.

I might invest in one of those canned Chess Exam books.  Or something like that.

I hope everyone is doing well.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Naming the Bishops

We chess players love our names.  Our openings carry with them heritage and famous advocates.  We don't play e4 d6, we play the Pirc Austrian Attack, Dragon Formation. We name our structures with colorful labels, like 'fianchetto' and 'isolani'.  I share our love for these names, evoking the great history and global allure of chess.  But I've always been confused by one strange omission.

We've never named the bishops.  Or maybe we have, in some ancient 1500 manuscript, but it clearly hasn't caught on.  Maybe the Soviets did, but I've never seen it referenced.  We're stuck with "dark-squared bishop" and "light-squared bishop", which is unwieldy.  Maybe for the first few hundred years or so it was no big deal, but once the Internet arrived and chess discussion exploded, this deficiency became glaring.  We could use "DBishop" and "LBishop", but that has all the style and elegance of a gym locker.

So, I've named my bishops:



I hope you do the same.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

As promised, here's my favorite Chessimo position so far:

Black to move

I like the attraction into the sandwich of ill intentions.

Tactical training status:
Studied 2841, Learned 300

I'm not going to lie, today was a bit more grueling than others.  I wasn't in the mood and I was sloppy.  I might do that unit over again.  However, I'm happy I pushed through.  They'll be more days like this.  I'm a bit ahead of my schedule, so I might go easy tomorrow, combined with some soft study of something else.

Chessimo is technically spaced repetition, but the 'spacing' is crude, based more on how quickly you are moving through the problems.  Spaced repetition is on a perpetual to-do list over at ChessTempo.  CPT 3.3 handles tactics but has crude spaced repetition, CPT 4 has scheduled spaced repetition but doesn't handle tactics.

There's an Anki deck of tactics; I haven't looked at it yet.  It seems to me that it's a straightforward matter to build Anki decks of chess positions:

Position file --> Scid --> use the Engine Analyze Each Position feature --> Save analysis as variations or commentary --> Export --> Parse and chop into Anki-able text file --> automate diagram production via Winboard, Crafty, or whatever tool works best.  Actually, you could do the bulk via Crafty command line scripting and the annotate[h] functions.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Color of Attacked Squares

Chessimo has been all review for the past few units.  GM Milos is smart!  I was getting strained and discouraged by the Mate in Threes (successful, but with errors).  The review is a wonderful breather and a chance to rebuild confidence.

I'm still stunned by how hard Mate in Twos are for me.  I mean, I generally get them, but shouldn't they be automatic?!  It's a key move, then a finishing move.  It should pop out.  Yes, I guess that's the point of my training.  A review Mate in Two can still can take me 12-15 seconds.  I see the probable key move, but it takes me time to verify the entire event.  I'm a discouraged by this, but again, I'm not supposed to be good yet.

I missed a Mate in One today! On time!  It turned out I was counting a useful pawn as owned by the enemy, because it was so deep into enemy territory.  I'm not too worried about it.  If you keep hurtling through tactics problems and changing your allegiances, it's bound to happen.  But, it stands as a funny and useful turkey.  If you're ever feeling discouraged about your tactical abilities, come back to this post.  You can't possibly do worse!

My favorite tactical problems so far are Mate in Ones.  Stop laughing.  Stop.  Look, there's still more blog left, so please pull yourself together so we can continue.  Anyway, I just love the template-y thematic-y feel to them.  I feel like basic verbs are being etched into my brain.  I do also have a favorite Mate problem; I'll try to post it after I see it next.

I'm wondering about visualizing attacked squares.  As in:

  • The king is surrounded by attacked squares.  Is it possible to visualize those attacked squares as different - darker colored, different texture, etc.?
  • Similarly and/or more generally, is it possible to visualize the squares that a piece attacks differently?  I'm referring to the starburst that radiates out from a queen, or the cross radiating from a rook.

Tactics, and generally my view of the board, is still a logic puzzle (which is correct - chess is a logic puzzle - but possibly not helpful to the task at hand).  Viewing the board with rays of influence might be more useful.  I need to google and see how experts view the board.  If anyone has insight, I would appreciate it.

I'm starting to get a hankering for endgames.  Not being from the South, I should of course avoid use of that word, but your pain is the least of my concerns after your little display earlier.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tactics training status

Chessimo:  1,465 problems done
CTS:  290 problems done

So... yes, it's clear I'm just doing the bare minimum of CTS.  Chessimo is already mildly challenging to me at Tactics 1 - Unit 12.  I'd be ashamed to say that, except for the circular part where I'm doing this because I'm bad at tactics.  Lesson to whippersnappers:  don't get discouraged by being bad at things you're trying to learn how to do.  It saps your soul.

I continue to like Chessimo, and the convenience of having it on my iPhone.  The ads claim it "remembers [my] progress" but meh I must have done the first third of Unit 11 three times.  Either that's PC only or I'm missing something.  Obviously with multi-threading I should be able to step away and step back.  Maybe I just forget to do that.  But otherwise at 135 problems per unit, it's hard to carve out that chunk of time in a single sitting.

After today's single sitting, I promptly passed out.  I dreamed of tactics!  That's gotta be a rite of passage, yeah?

I grew covetous of today.  That likely will be a part of my future.  But I have so many tactical resources right now, more is just distracting.

I've been having fun working out my repertoire, which really deserves separate blog posts.  I've decided to temporarily ditch most of my gambits.  It's too stressful to go in as a novice down a pawn, when you have barely any idea how to attack and have promised yourself not to book up too much.  I do know how to develop and the outlines of many openings, so against fellow patzers, attacks should develop on their own.  A finer reading of many recommendations clarifies that you should add in gambits after your novice stage.  Ah, I missed that nuance.

I'm favoring transpositions and less common variations.  It's fun!  I keep going back to the Dutch/Bird lines.  I find it aesthetically pleasing, but I'm dutifully wary of the Bird being too positional or complicated.  Black is mostly done, which I'll discuss later.  On White I'm trying to figure out if I can get enough sharp transpositions from 1.f4.  I'm trying to work out if I can get a combination of Bird/Larsen, King's Gambit, Taylor-style Grand Prix, Austrian Attack, and whatever other f4 openings fit the bill. Standard Classical or Polar Bear to fill in the rest, which I worry is too maneuver-y for me right now, but in doses might be fine. I'd prefer not to learn the King's Gambit (Declination of From), but it sure would make sense.  I assume the Vienna is waaay too far of a transposition.  I want to position myself for e4-ish openings, because sharp is important, and I want a switch back to e4 gambits to be silky smooth.  Transpositions help avoid a lot of theory (well, technically they might just shift theory), and will let me focus on less than the full slate of the e4 catalog.

More on that later.  So this is how you sate the novice's stupid passion for openings when he's promised himself not to practice openings.